This morning all the conservative Catholic websites and web magazines are carrying the same story. Bishop Finn of NCR's home diocese has issues with the National Catholic Reporter. I can't imagine why Bishop Finn in particular would have issues with NCR. However, he's mostly concerned not with their coverage of his own particular news worthy problems, but NCR's editorials supporting women's ordination, their lack of enthusiasm for other pelvic issues, and secretly, their continual reporting about abuse and corruption in the Church.
“In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name 'Catholic,'” he wrote in his Jan. 25 column for his diocesan paper, “The Catholic Key”.
His comments on the National Catholic Reporter came in the context of World Communications Day, held on Jan. 24. He noted that the day is celebrated then as it is the the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, patron of journalists and the Catholic press.
Bishop Finn reflected on the role bishops play in fostering Catholic media, and their responsibility over local media for the promotion and protection of the faith.
The bishop noted that he is well-pleased with The Catholic Key and its staff, who “use the paper to teach Catholic doctrine, to provide trustworthy reflections on issues that take place in our culture, and to provide stories of apostolic life and work – particularly from our local diocese – that inspire us to live our Catholic faith more fully.”
Bishop Finn said he is similarly happy with the Catholic radio station located in the diocese, KEXS 1090, for helping Catholics to “know and live their faith.”
In contrast to these positive, faithful Catholic media outlets located in the Kansas City-Saint Joseph diocese, Bishop Finn examined the National Catholic Reporter.
“I have received letters and other complaints about NCR from the beginning of my time here,” saod Bishop Finn, who was consecrated the diocese's coadjutor in May, 2004.
He continued, “In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”
He noted that the problem of the National Catholic Reporter did not start under his time as bishop.
“Bishop Charles Helmsing in October of 1968 issued a condemnation of the National Catholic Reporter and asked the publishers to remove the name 'Catholic' from their title – to no avail. From my perspective, NCR’s positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.”
He noted that early on in his time as bishop he asked that the Reporter “submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law.”
“They declined to participate,” he wrote, “indicating that they considered themselves an 'independent newspaper which commented on 'things Catholic.'' At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.” (Unfortunately for Bishop Finn, this is the crux of the matter and there isn't anything he can do about it.)
Bishop Finn wrote that “While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level.” (That's a very inventive way of admitting there's nothing I can do about it.)
Noting Bishop Finn's column, Edward Peters, professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, posited that National Catholic Reporter's use of “Catholic” in their title is canonically illicit.
“There is simply zero question about this assertion, for they 'claim the name Catholic without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.' Second, once one is shown to be acting illegally under canon law, a number of canonical responses to illicit activity come into play including precepts, the invocation of penal law, and certain sacramental consequences for organizational leadership,” Peters wrote Jan. 25 at “In the Light of the Law.” (Mr Peters has become the go to Canon Lawyer for conservative Catholics and his son runs one of the biggest and first of the conservative Catholic blogs--American Papist.)
Bishop Finn's column concluded as it began, with an appeal to St. Francis de Sales.
Realizing that by natural means he has been unable to bring the Reporter to fidelity to the Church, he wrote: “For this we pray: St. Francis DeSales, intercede for us.”
Poor Bishop Finn, cursed with the National Catholic Reporter in his own Diocese on top of all his legal difficulties. What's a poor Bishop to do when he's inundated with emails and letters from disgruntled conservatives who resent their precious idea of the meaning of 'Catholic' being drug through the mud by those heretics at NCR? Unfortunately for both the Bishop and disgruntled conservatives, the founders of the National Catholic Reporter chose their name wisely and they never did claim to offer themselves as orthodox teachers, just reporters on 'All Things Catholic".
When a newspaper is actually reporting, and not practicing apologetics, they can report on things like Bishop Finn's inept criminal attempt to cover for a sexually abusing priest, or a psychopathic sexual predator masquerading as the founder of a conservative religious order, or an independent unaccountable bank pretending to protect 'charitable offerings' while laundering drug money for the Mafia and Central American drug cartels. It's just that reporting on those kinds of 'Catholic things' doesn't enhance the brand identity. Obedient loyal Catholics are not supposed to report on things, even sickeningly true things, that damage the brand identity. And they certainly don't question the rationale and source of authority for some illogical and self serving magisterial teachings.
I did notice though, that Bishop Finn didn't really address the actual reporting of the National Catholic Reporter. He limited himself to editorials and he is correct, the NCR has taken some less than orthodox editorial stances. Given the Vatican's sudden increase in disciplining priests who discuss unorthodox things, I wouldn't be surprised if Bishop Finn gets emboldened enough to threaten to excommunicate NCR's editorial board. Nothing better than a good distraction, especially when the LA sex abuse crisis is exploding in the faces of Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry. Bishop Finn may feel he owes some of his fellow bishops, or at least one fellow OD member in LA, a distracting broadside at the National Catholic Reporter as a sort of payback for not saying anything about his refusal to excommunicate himself from their ranks.
But whatever Finn hoped to accomplish, and from his own writing it seems not much, he has given the conservative Catholic media world a story to get all excited about---as opposed to that odious stuff coming out of Los Angeles which has done more to scandalize more faithful than anyone news outlet could ever hope to accomplish.